“There’s magic in putting together a great team; having a variety of perspectives makes for a stronger design solution. We have the privilege of creating spaces that enhance peoples’ lives; architects get to realize our thoughts out in the physical world – that’s a gift.”
Kristen Scott is the Managing Partner of Weber Thompson and leads the firm’s Workplaces team which focuses on boutique, high performance commercial buildings. She was Weber Thompson’s first employee in 1989 and became Managing Partner in 1996. Since then, she has shepherded the firm’s development and growth focusing on diversity, from a handful of people doing small projects to the 65+ person award-winning powerhouse WT is today.
What is your proudest accomplishment at WT?
Developing the Workplaces Studio as a sustainably focused design effort from the ground up has been the most rewarding. The projects are so forward looking—they address the most pressing issue we face today, how to heal our environment and minimize the impact from building construction and its contribution to climate change. Additionally, overseeing the design of so many new office buildings in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood, including Watershed, our Living Building project that houses our office, is definitely my proudest accomplishment.
How was Weber Thompson’s culture unique from other architecture firms twenty years ago?
It’s interesting, I was looking back through notes I prepared for an AIA Seattle diversity round table that I did in 2002. I’d pulled together statistics about how diverse Weber Thompson was as a firm–60% women and minorities and 40% of the professional staff were women. So, really similar to where we are now, and very different from everyone else on the panel. I was asked how we did it and my response was that we built this diversity by hiring young staff. Even twenty years ago, the talent pool fresh out of college was 50/50 men and women. At the time, we weren’t looking to hire people with 15 or 20 years of experience; that was a very different group, one that wasn’t as diverse.
Given the effort in mentoring young staff, we knew we wanted people to stay long term, which meant we had to be flexible as people’s lives changed while providing opportunities for growth. So, even from that very beginning, we had very family friendly, flexible policies. Whether it was needing to care for elderly parents, or little kids, it was very much a conscious thing to have a policy that allowed for that flexibility. That DNA was set early in establishing what kind of firm we wanted to be.
How does Weber Thompson’s current culture support women and other emerging professionals in their career?
It’s really important for us to acknowledge that work is not life. It’s important to have honest conversations about how to navigate different phases of your career and your life and how they intersect. This is especially important for women in architecture to understand; it’s a tough profession and you need to keep your creativity alive and engaged – that can be challenging with heavy caretaking loads at home. It can only be accomplished when you’re supported in a bunch of different ways and by having lots of opportunities to grow and change. Firms need to provide that support at work consciously and deliberately. At Weber Thompson these efforts have resulted in amazing careers for many women who have given back, not only through their contributions here, but to the greater architecture community.
Any words of encouragement for young women building their career?
Be resilient, step out of your comfort zone and be confident. Don’t let anyone else define you! Listen very hard to your clients. Check to make sure you are considering their perspective. Be proactive. Be open to critique; every project offers new things to learn – be eager.
Architecture is a team sport, and my job is to bring out the best in every individual I work with. There’s magic in putting together a great team; having a variety of perspectives makes for a stronger design solution. We have the privilege of creating spaces that enhance peoples’ lives; architects get to realize our thoughts out in the physical world – that’s a gift.